By: Liv Albright, Columnist
Views expressed in the column are the author’s own.
What a wild ride. From haunted dolls and fatal accidents, to sprouting wings, Kim Fu writes with excitement and invention in her new short story collection, “Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century.”
A Seattle-based author, Fu has written the novels “The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore” and “For Today I Am a Boy.” Both received critical acclaim and multiple award nominations; “For Today I Am a Boy” won the Edmund White Award. Fu’s fantastical new collection lives up to the hype of her previous works.
In the awesome “Pre-Simulation Consultation XF007867,” Fu bends genres by constructing her ideas through dialogue. Imagine a conversation between a salesman pushing a simulation experience on a vulnerable female.
Drama unfolds when the protagonist asks for one last visit with her deceased mother. The employee who runs the simulation center has his own, shall we say, agenda. I won’t give too much away, but the back-and-forth convo gets political really fast when the narrator finds out that simulation-center customers can get busy with unicorns.
Fu’s playfulness is refreshing and engaging. More impressively, she sheds light on seedy acts that society deliberately ignores.
Society certainly should pay more attention to the couple in “Twenty Hours.” This is a poppin’ story — my favorite of the bunch, and probably Fu’s best.
In this killer tale, a married couple repeatedly kill each other with various weapons such as poison and hunting rifles — a surreal version of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Both man and wife are resurrected by way of a “printer,” a new invention for the privileged wealthy that saves them from sudden and unusual deaths, but not from terminal illnesses like cancer.
Fu seems to regard marriage as cancerous, and let me tell you, after reading this I won’t be walking down the aisle anytime soon.
Concerns with saying “I do” surface in “Bridezilla,” whose plot takes an ominous turn. Things get real when the protagonist Leah’s fiancé compares marriage to pizza. As Ms. O’Connor famously says, “A good man is hard to find,” but that doesn’t mean we should settle for a man who thinks of marriage as a hot, cheesy slice.
But according to Fu, we’re all trapped: everyone in Leah’s hippy dippy friend group ends up in traditional, monogamous relationships. Does that mean we’re all doomed to be cogs in the marriage machine?
At least the pizza-boyfriend isn’t abusive, like Martha’s man-boy, Neil, in “June Bugs.” She leaves Neil and escapes to a new rental, only to be greeted by skittering, ugly bugs, and they’re everywhere: in her clothing, her bed, her kitchen drawers.
But Fu doesn’t paint Martha as a victim. Martha works as a phone representative for ShopGlobal. And she has a gun. This well-plotted story has unexpected turns. Buckle up, readers!
Neil’s sleaze may be as bad as it gets, but this doesn’t stop Fu from playing with the theme of the ineligible bachelor in other stories.
In the well-rendered “Time Cubes,” Fu plays with the perception of death by introducing a male love interest who deceives with magical means. The Time Cube salesman entertains onlookers with miniature time machines in “the Mall,” a dystopian structure where protagonist Alice and the Time Cube salesman live and work.
However, his personal life skills away from the job suffer — his sexual prowess is less than impressive. Alice describes her dismay by saying mordantly that the salesman was “self-involved, falling asleep after coming so easily and immediately it was like he’d been knocked out with a frying pan.” Yikes!
Even if you’re not a speculative fiction fan, Fu’s stories are still relatable. She writes about relationships, aging, sexuality, and health. Her unique blending of realism and fantasy is the Friday-night adventure you can have on your couch. So, curl up with a blanket, hot cocoa or a whiskey, and get ready to read.